Tuesday, 9 March 2010


‘Why are you doing this?’ asked York as they stood at the highest point of the fortress. ‘What’s in it for you?’

The English countryside rolled away across the horizon, unblemished save for a scattering of wooden huts hastily assembled. The summer’s sun twinkled and all was still, just the distant gentle lowing of cattle, drifting aimlessly in the air.

‘The same reasons as you,’ smiled Warwick tightly, ‘land. I see no reason to deceive, to suggest that I am doing this because I believe in your case, or I feel some moral obligation. Make no mistake. I want land and the power that comes with it. Nothing else.’

‘Good. At least I know how far I can trust you.’

The Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick sat on the battlements of some unnamed English castle and planned the fall of the monarchy that July of 1453.
The Duke of York was aggrieved that Henry VI’s grandfather had wrested the throne from his cousin, the boy-king Richard, and skipped over York’s maternal line of inheritance. York’s mother was the daughter of Henry’s grandfather’s elder brother. Inheritance law: It’s always been a bitch and never more so in the middle ages, where the winner got everything and the loser nothing.

Twelve months before, Warwick had politically sided with the King, but a year later and embroiled in a petty squabble with the Early of Somerset he changed his mind and the most powerful noble in the land became prepared to fight his monarch to crown York a Richard III.

The best laid plans, though, never quite come good.

Power ebbed and flowed like the changing of the seasons, like the rising of tide, like the change in her preference of rose colour. Militarily superior, but politically unstable York was only able to establish a series of protectorates, each time hiding the feeble Henry away. He ruled, but was never King. The ultimate prize was kept at bay by technicalities and the rallying of Henry’s support.

For seven years the sea came in and rolled back out again. Moments of peace and normality were punctuated by civil war. House fought against house, cousin against cousin. In 1460, at Wakefield, the Lancastrians ambushed York away from Warwick and the bulk of his armies. Far from inexperienced in battle, York still found his head atop a pike over Micklegate Bar in the walls of the city from whence he took his name. Draped atop his bloodied and bruised head was a crown of paper.

Despite his ambitions, Warwick had failed to make a Richard III, but that particular hunched historical figure was still lurking in the wings.

Further south, York’s eldest son was with Warwick and the majority of their forces. The tall youth was filled with such a rage of righteousness over the death of his Father that he went on the rampage only stopping when the Lancastrain army was virtually wiped out, Henry had fled into exile, and a crown of gold was placed on his head.

The Kingmaker had done his work. Edward IV sat on the throne.

Warwick has been mythologized as the kingmaker. He wanted to exert influence from behind the scenes, without any of the inherent risk of being in power himself.

People like that still exist today. Rupert Murdoch is one of them.
Through a globally spanning range of newspapers, television channels and media you probably didn’t even realise exist he has been secreting messages into our minds. Messages that impact on our physical world. The Sun, in particular, claims a long line in responsibility for successful campaign swings from 1992’s headline ‘Can the Last Person in Britain, Please Turn Off the Lights’, to hitching up to Blair’s bandwagon in 1997. Now, they have flip flopped back to the Conservatives and are already congratulating themselves for May.

Although the editorial board will claim the shifts in political alliances are because the Sun ‘has its finger on the pulse of the nation’, that’s all a load of bollocks. The real reason is because Murdoch’s cronies will have already met Dave’s toadies and they’ll have worked out what News International empire’s support of Dave and the Gang will give him when they walk through the big black door with a ten on it.

And the answer?


We stood outside the Bermondsey pub underneath the railway bridge as the blonde finished her cigarette. The rumble of late night traffic bubbled behind her. We both leant into the wall trying to keep out of the wind chill as it sliced icy razors up the main road. Her fingers shivered as they moved up to her lips.

I can’t remember what she said. I can only hear, in the splintering yellow light and flashes of orange, me thinking over and over: ‘You have got the prettiest eyes.’

Then, just as I’d decided in a moment of mild tipsiness, that it was now or never the world shook. A train inched over our heads and intruded into the moment.

‘Oh, that’s me. Gotta go. See you soon, hun.’ A peck on the cheek and she disappeared into the city, lost to the northbound gravity tug and the opportunity was gone.

Martin Amis has been lurking around bemoaning how whenever he has a new book coming out the press corner him into saying something outrageous. And he justified their apparent obsession with him by pointing out that he is the only hereditary writer in the English language. As though anyone had forgotten it.

“I’m not turning into Kingsley. I’m already Kingsley.” Always has been, apparently.

But there are two sides to this, Martin. And if you are Kingsley then Kingsley really did make you, despite your refusal to ever entertain this argument before. Did he pull you up to the top of the literary pile, your young hand clasped within his leathery palm, him belching gulps of beery breath with the effort of raising you up? In that case, you were gifted your position. You never had to fight fought for it. Is that what you’re so angry about, Martin? Was it too easy?

Warwick found himself, by design, at the heart of Edward’s government. He was the King’s principal advisor until they inevitably fell out - over a woman of all things. Warwick had arranged a political marriage to the King of France’s sister in law (also the daughter of the Count of Savoy) only to discover that Edward had already secretly wed himself to the a minor noble lady. A good shag, maybe, but a missed opportunity for forging vital ties with the continent.

Disgruntled, Warwick conspired to stage a coup and place Edward’s younger brother, George of Clarence, on the throne instead. The nineteen year old was not only Warwick’s son-in-law, but ambitious and deluded about his own ability. One who would be significantly easier to manipulate the confident and competent Edward.

After a brief resurgence of the war, Edward found himself in a secluded room in a remote castle and the door closed. But the country refused to recognise the Warwick or George and anarchy reigned. Eventually, Warwick grudgingly recognised the futility of his situation and released Edward. Following the fashion of the day, he promptly fled to France.

The Kingmaker had slipped.

“I suppose they’re trying to make me sound provocative. Well, they messed that up too,” Martin continued. “I don’t sound provocative. I sound like a much feared pub bore in Hove.”

Except, Martin, once upon a time you weren’t a bore. Despite Kingsley’s initial leg
up, you got to the peak on your own, by writing outrageously funny, brilliantly constructed novels full of glitteringly genius moments of language.

And then you just became a bit crap. With the writing not at the standard it once was, the interest remains because of who are. You made yourself, the you of today and of yesterday, whether you like that or not.

I feel a bit sorry for Martin. I can’t imagine anything worse than being continually referred to as the former enfant terrible of the English language. Not as the author Martin Amis, or even Martin, the son of the author Kingsley Amis, but being defined by something as fleeting and as lost as once enfant terrible status.
It must make him feel redundant and perhaps in need of someone’s help once again.

As I stumbled through Soho, heading for the tube, midnight Friday fell all around and the girl with the dyed red hair pulled me half into a doorway. She angled her head to one side and fingered the lapel of my coat.

‘No,’ I said, ‘not this time.’ And I felt unreasonably smug with myself like the bastard I must be.

Believe it or not, Murdoch’s not even the worst of the bunch. No, the Tories have a wolf hidden within in their ranks. Lord Ashcroft. The non-dom billionaire who has wonderfully attracted the attention of shit in ways that he’s spent years trying to avoid. Lord Ashcroft, whose tactical identification of funding overkill for marginal seats is seeing places like Brighton and Hove Conservative Office fight a campaign with a war chest ten times the size of Labour’s with a majority of four hundred and twenty-six.

The Tory defendants point out that Gordie Brown and his crew of lovable dopes also have millionaire backers. This is true – although the coffers are famously empty at Labour HQ, Beagle Balls having blown them all on dog biscuits or Linus van Darling on a new comfort blanket or whatever. However, the point is, their billionaire chums aren’t the deputy chairman of the party. They aren’t on the inside driving an agenda.

This is it: Lord Ashcroft doesn’t live in this country. He doesn’t have the same concerns as you or me because he is infinitely wealthy. He doesn’t have to worry about GP waiting times or the quality of local schools or whether the bins are going to be collected or the public sector pensions’ timebomb. He sits in the House of Lords, unelected, and will almost certainly be given a ministerial position should the Conservatives win the election. At least Petey had the decency to get elected once or twice before being killed off and then resurrected.

And if Ashcroft doesn’t care about the same things most go into politics for, if he isn’t responsible to voters, then why is he doing this?

That’s right.


Same old, same old. You would think we’d learn.

At the spectacular court of Louis XI, Warwick made a most unexpected ally: Henry VI. Supported by French troops Warwick and Henry (not to mention his rather warlike wife, Margaret) invaded.

Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, Edward shuffled across the sea in the opposite direction to Burgundy. But the Kingmaker’s second King couldn’t last long.

Edward, along with his loyal youngest brother, Richard the new Duke of York, swiftly returned. They landed in the north and whilst the city of their Father was closed to them, as they marched southwards, towards the capital, they gathered support – including George who switched sides once again. Dukes and Earls, sick of Warwick and his arrogance to rule yet not take responsibility, flocked to their banner.

They gathered followers. They gathered an army.

Edward found the gates of London open. The streets were oddly deserted; the militias had packed up and gone home; even the Tower was unlocked – at least until Edward closed its heavy English oak doors on Henry and Margaret.

Poor Henry. He stayed locked up for a few weeks, until he died of melancholy. His fragile frame no longer able to stand the rigours of so many years at war. Or until, at least, one warm May evening when Richard of York opened the door with a glinting dagger in his hand.

But before then, there was the Kingmaker to deal with.

Thick fog settled over two armies formed of hastily forged and still mistrusted alliances, as they lined up at Barnet, just north of London. Good fortune fell with Edward, especially when the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford emerged from the murk in the wrong place and accidentally attacked his own side. By a moment of chance, the battle turned.

As did Warwick. He turned to flee once more. But, finally, escape was impossible. Yorkist troops dragged him down off his horse and into the dirt like the normal man he’d never been. A dozen hands held him down as they prised his visor open and, with a knowing sneer, stabbed him in the face.

I wonder if, as he lay dying and the men at arms stripped him of his gilded armour, he dreamt of comforts away from the field of battle? A soft bed to lie down in for his final moment, perhaps? Behind the screams of the mortally maimed and the reek of burnt gunpowder from discharged cannon, did the Kingmaker’s imagination fill with a fluttering mound the petals from red and white roses?

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